The latest party funding figures have just been released and the most notable thing, as usual, is Labour’s remarkable dependence on the trade unions. In quarter two, the party received £3,093,094 in donations, £2,651,589 or 85.7 per cent of which came from the unions. Unite, the country’s biggest union, was alone responsible for 24.8 per cent (£765,628) of all donations. Of the £5.9m the Labour Party has received across both quarters this year, £5.2m or 88 per cent came from the unions.
I’m a strong supporter of the trade union link, but it’s unhealthy for a progressive party to be so dependent on a few sources of income. As Peter Mandelson argued recently, Labour must “revolutionise its funding sources”. Back in 1994, when Tony Blair became Labour leader, trade unions accounted for just a third of the party’s annual income. In 2010, they accounted for more than 60 per cent.
There is, of course, no comparison between the unions and the big-money donors the Tories rely on. Donations from Unite, for instance, are taken from the union’s political fund, to which 1,291,408 members contribute voluntarily. But this is no excuse for complacency. As I previously noted, the Tories and the Lib Dems are advancing plans to impose a cap of £50,000 on political donations. While the limit would have deprived Labour of 85 per cent of its income since 2005, the Tories would have forfeited just 50 per cent of their income. With this in mind, Ed Miliband must widen the party’s funding base as a matter of urgency.